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Social Task Management & the end of the Project Manager?

Imagine this scenario: it’s late in the game and your team is down a goal, who do you turn to? No sweat, obviously you turn to your captain. Having a solid team captain is an important cornerstone in building any championship program. The interesting thing about team captains is they may not be the best player, but they have an uncanny ability to rally everyone together, communicate the game plan, and most importantly – execute. For starters, they are looked upon to help communicate the relevant information, execute, and guide their team to success. There’s a lot in common with team captains and project managers. However, with the development of new social task management tools, are they going to become a job of the past?

Projects are complex.

If left alone, they can quickly balloon out of control. One of the many important aspects to stay on top of is project communication. Too much and it’s distracting, too little and it’s debilitating. Regulating the flow of information can be complex. Sometimes making sure the right people have access to the right information may seem to be one of the more mundane roles of a project manager but, it can mean the difference between project success and failure. A post from the blog, The Project Wall, highlights the complexity that managing project communication can bring.

“Having been involved in scores of projects as a project manager, we have prepared literally thousands of informal and formal communications for stakeholders…The theory driving the establishment of formal communications planning is network complexity.”

As the number of members involved in a project increases, the more complex the project naturally becomes. As illustrated in the diagram below, communication between members gets incredibly complex very quickly. That’s where having a strong project manager comes into play.

Complicated Project Communication

However this could all be changing. With the emergence of social task management tools, a new possibility of project management communication emerges. Instead of viewing project communication as a set of paths between individuals, social task management tools allow team members to communicate directly with the project. These social task tools allow the project news feed to essentially become a member of the team with whom other members can communicate. This opens up the new possibility of team members communicating with the project itself (peer-to-project) as well as the traditional team member (peer-to-peer) communication. This means that instead of maintaining a direct communication path with each team member; each team member has to make sure they are in communications with the project.

What does this mean for the Project Manager?

This process of treating the “project” as a team member may sound great. However, peer-to-peer communication will always occur outside the realm of the project news feed. Most of the time these peer-to-peer communications are informal and if gone undocumented, the rest of the project team will be at a disadvantage not knowing what transpired. Whereas in a traditional team environment, most of these informal communications are processed by individuals as part of the environment and made visible through the collaboration system. Although communication may be simplified, it’s still important to have a captain to make sure the game plan is executed. So their role may change, but they are still a necessity for any winning team.

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